Friday, November 30, 2012

The Transformation of Orton Plantation

Orton Plantation, a former tourist attraction on the west bank of the Cape Fear River near Wilmington, North Carolina, is being transformed in a profound sort of way by its new owner, Louis Moore Bacon.

Bacon is working to return the landscape to a pre-20th century condition and opened the gates of the property Thursday to members of the media to show the progress that has been made at the plantation.

The property was recently listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is listed as a significant heritage area by the N.C.Natural Heritage program. Bacon has also entered into a Safe Harbor Agreement with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission that establishes the 8,400-acre property as a safe habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

There is still plenty of work to be done, said Dillon Epp, property manager, even as the slow-growing longleaf pine begins to show signs of dominating the landscape and native grasses begin to flourish. Over 90 million acres of longleaf pine once existed in the Southeastern United States, but only three percent remain.

The forest is most healthy when fires regularly sweep through the underbrush, and so far the forest has only been burned once.

"It's going to take a long time to restore," Epp said.

The biggest project at hand will be the restoration of the signature rice crops that bordered the historic plantation house. Bacon and his team no longer have any impediments to restoring the rice fields, with all of the permits being recently obtained from the Army Corps of Engineers and state agencies.

But the public won't be able to visit Orton any more to see the work done to the plantation; and the slideshow that accompanies the news article would seem to drive that point home, as it only shows areas of the plantation that are being restored: no pictures of the beautiful gardens or the plantation house are included in the 57 images. I'm just fortunate I got to see Orton before it was closed to visitors.

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